When the subzero windchills arrive on the Minnesota Vikings stadium construction site as they did Tuesday, project boss Dave Mansell sees his crew get smaller.
“It’s about where you’re from,” said Mansell, Mortenson Construction’s general superintendent on the project. “Guys from the Iron Range will be out there in short sleeves. But we’ve had a few of those guys from Texas drag up already. … They’ll be back. Some people can handle it, some people can’t.”
Work on the $1.1 billion stadium project purred along Tuesday despite a windchill advisory that was extended through 10 a.m. Wednesday by the National Weather Service. Windchills are forecast to plummet into the 25-below range on Wednesday before heading back up toward the end of the week.
Few are more acutely attuned to the need for acclimation to cold weather than those who earn a living outdoors, like construction workers on tall buildings. “If you don’t figure out how to work in the cold, you’ll starve to death,” Mansell said.
Everyone who shows up on the job comes in layers that include more than one jacket, flannel-lined pants and/or bibs, heavily insulated boots and gloves. On the concourses and in the pit, Carhartt and Gore-Tex are as haute as the couture gets.
But clothing alone does not a warm worker make. Mansell showed off two massive ground-level heaters that devour $5,000 in propane per day and send the heat throughout the structure. Workers can be seen backing up to heating vents throughout the stadium for quick warming breaks. Mansell said a staff of eight is devoted solely to overseeing the heating systems.
Temporary shacks throughout the concourses provide respites of 40 degrees. Workers keep extra clothes in the shacks that also hold chairs, a microwave and tools. A toastier form of shelter also pops up in some spots: insulated ice-fishing-style shelters.
‘Eating more’ helps
Jess Hill, an apprentice who was trying to get warm on a break, informed Mansell that the heaters weren’t working well. Mansell turned to the foreman, Mark Domzil, and asked, “Why don’t you buy a heater for this shack?”
Hill, a newbie working on her first winter construction project, scoffed at the question of how she copes with cold. “I’ve lived here my entire life, that’s how,” she said before conceding, “I was hoping my car wouldn’t start this morning.”
Domzil is in charge of workers on the highest points of the new stadium, “the windiest, coldest spot, that’s us,” he said.
Drinking lots of fluids is also key for working the cold, Domzil said, and “eating more,” Mansell added: “eating a lot more” to fuel the body that works extra hard all day to stay warm.
He and Mansell agreed the cold is mostly manageable. “Anything below minus-5 is all the same,” Domzil said.
Windchill is another beast. Ironworkers don’t go up when it drops to a 15-below windchill. Mansell said that was the case Tuesday morning. By late afternoon, however, even he was surprised when he looked up and saw men out on the beams.
Different trades have different union contract thresholds regarding the weather, but Mansell said when the windchill gets colder than 20 below, “We shut the job down.”
Better cold than hot?
Draped throughout the site is industrial plastic sheeting that breaks the wind and keeps in heat. “It’s amazing what you can do with a little poly,” Mansell said as he walked among yards and yards of it.
Workers in the walk-up service ramp on the backside of the stadium smoothed cement on the surface. Cement gets laid in a heated form so it doesn’t freeze. Workers throw industrial plastic blankets over it at night to warm it as it sets.
Don Johnson is the foreman for the finishers, who have one of the most physically grueling jobs on the site. “It’s just hard to get motivated,” Johnson said about getting out of bed on the coldest days.
Mansell’s take on the winter weather: “It’s not too bad when the sun’s out, but it sucks at 7 in the morning.”
Wisconsin native Beau Bune, who was also working in the ramp area, said Northerners are like polar bears. “They can take the cold, but you put them in the heat, they can’t handle it,” Bune said.
While you can see construction workers on the stadium site nearly every day this winter, don’t expect to run into them strapping on snowshoes or skis on the weekends because, Mansell said, “We’re not really fond of winter activities after we go home.”